Merlin: Review: Series 4 Ep 9: Lancelot du Lac

Arthur asks Guinevere to marry him – but are her feelings for Sir Lancelot completely in the past?

Lancelot’s death at the end of the opening two-parter of this season apparently indicated that the BBC version of Merlin wasn’t going to delve any further into the love triangle between Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot that is one of the staples of the myth. This episode blows that supposition right out of the water.

In line with the rest of this season, it doesn’t take the easy way out of any of the situations that it creates, and once again the series shows that it’s become as much about Camelot as it is about the titular magician. Colin Morgan has some good moments – the closing scene showing just how far he has come as an actor over the past few years – but this episode concentrates quite rightly on Bradley James, Angel Coulby and Santiago Cabrera (and for his many fans, there’s a tantalising scene as he comes out of the water early on in the episode).

Bradley James has never been better as Arthur, torn between his duties as a king and his desires as a man. Whereas in previous seasons, some of the confrontations might have been dealt with far more melodramatically, there’s a passion present that is all the more credible because it’s clearly being restrained.

Verdict: This isn’t disposable tea-time entertainment any more. It’s become a full blown drama, and Lancelot du Lac continues a fine run of stories. Not to be missed. 8/10

Paul Simpson

Check out our other Merlin reviews here and read our review of Volume 1 of the Series 4 DVDs

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27 thoughts on “Merlin: Review: Series 4 Ep 9: Lancelot du Lac

  1. If they are going to kill Lancelot again, I’ll stop watching right after this episode. I’m so tired of everything and everything being a tool to make Arthur and Gwen’s affair seem more epic than it is.

    Posted by Sdorky | November 24, 2011, 4:46 pm
  2. The show being about Camelot more than Merlin is one of the reasons I like it much, much less than I used to. It’s betrayed my viewer expectations. Also, if no one but the baddies are responsible for the triangle, then the solution is facile and childlike. It’s not about the characters dealing with moral issues at all.

    Posted by disappointed | November 24, 2011, 6:30 pm
  3. I would say to both of you, wait and see the episode before you judge. More than on most episodes, there are a lot of rumours flying round the net about the contents of this which are simply not right!

    Posted by PS | November 24, 2011, 8:40 pm
  4. I’m very excited and scared for this episode. I really love Arthur and Gwen and I think they very epic. I’m not a fan of triangles though but if this one resolved then I’ll be happy!

    Posted by M | November 24, 2011, 9:36 pm
  5. The triangle in legend happens after the marriage and it destablises Camelot for good. Itx a fantastic, emotionally tormenting legendary story of love so strong that it overcame loyalty. Guinevere and Lancelot are an iconic romance. This sounds like a way to wimp out of it – resolve it before the marriage and leave Arthur and Guinevere happy ever after – like a Disney fairy tale, not Arthurian legend. That isn’t the BBC fiddling with a way of telling the story – its ripping the heart out of the legend to pacify romantics who like the bloodless Arthur and Gwen romance because its sweet. If this goes the way I expect – trying a ‘magic made them do it’ excuse then a banishment for Guinevere followed by a triumphant return and a happy marriage untroubled by infidelity, that really will be finally jumping the shark for this show’s pretensions to a retelling of legend that stays essentially true to it. If this is how it plays out I’m very disappointed in the producers for such cowardice.

    Posted by Marcus | November 25, 2011, 11:23 am
    • I take your point – but you’re saying that they’re changing something else… on a show that makes such a massive paradigm shift to the legend right from the start? As I said at the top of the review, I really expected it not to be brought in at all, after the events of the opening two-parter, and Santiago’s commitments to US shows…

      Posted by PS | November 25, 2011, 11:50 am
      • Now I’ve seen it it was as bad as I thought. Yes they’ve changed alot but they have always left the cornerstones untouched: Arthur marries Guinevere, he’s King of Camelot, he has the Knights of the Round Table, he will pull Excalibur from a stone, Mordred is his enemy, Morgana is a witch. They fiddle with things for sure – Merlin is young, Gwen’s a peasant, Uther lived till Arthur was a young man, but until now they’ve shown respect to the essentials of the legend they’ve claimed to be telling.

        But this is where it changes – where the producers totally rewrite the legend to make it fluffy. The G/L/A triangle is central to it. It would actually have been far better not to have brought it up, but just hinted at it, but they couldnt seem to bear even the idea of it in the future. As it is they’ve patronised their audience (G and L had to be enchanted to ‘cheat’ and that cheat, the whole epic tale of human complexity was reduced to 45 minutes of a Morgana enchants another object storyline. And as the ‘betrayal’ (which in this was nothing more than a kiss) was before the inevitable wedding how much tension there exactly?) For me they’ve definitely jumped the shark and its a massive shame. And for what? Bizarrely, to bolster a chemistry free take on fairytale love story a 5 year old girl would see through as embarrassing?

        Posted by Marcus | November 28, 2011, 4:24 pm
    • Really…really tired of hearing about how iconic Guinevere and Lancelot are. Arthurian legend lasted roughly eight centuries without Lancelot. I think it will survive omitting an actual affair. It’s not the first time it’s been left out of the tale and prayerfully it won’t be the last.

      BTW if it jumps the shark for you, I’m sorry to say the audience of approx 7 million will be missing 1.

      Posted by Shirl nettles | November 25, 2011, 3:16 pm
    • I think that the show as always said that they are interpreting the legend in a different way. Lancelot wasn’t even in the original legends and I know most people don’t know that as the most popular legends feature him and the infidelity.

      Personally, I love Arthur and Guinevere and believe that this is the interpretation of the ‘affair’ aspect of the legend. If you don’t like how they are handling it, then I wonder why you bother watching it in the first place. The producers have always said that they are doing things differently and personally I love this because if they did the same old then it wouldn’t interesting.

      Posted by M | November 25, 2011, 8:39 pm
      • Lancelot and Guinevere in popular legend are never just good friends. The legends with Lancelot since Chretien le Troyes- which are by far the best known – involve infidelity. If they’re going that far to make it up as they like, perhaps they could have arthur marrying someone other than Guinevere. Somehow I doubt those who love what they’ve done in 4.09 would be quite so happy about butchering legend then.

        Posted by Marcus | November 28, 2011, 4:42 pm
    • I agree and despite what the reviewer claimed I think they did take the easy way out, and I am afraid that for all the interesting build up I thought we were getting this series we are going to end up about in the same place we started at the end of it all, with Gwen still with Arthur and no reveal of Merlin’s magic to anyone. And frankly, if the show intended not to tell the story of Lancelot and Guinevere as a romance, then why build the foundations for it in the first place? I don’t care whether they follow the legend or not. I do care whether they follow the own history of the characters on the actual show I usually enjoy. There was no excuse for bringing enchantment and amnesia into it, not with the actual history between those two characters. Instead they turn them into plot props with no agency of their own to drive the story forward–there’s nothing interesting about that. This isn’t the first time that they have completely ignored the history of their characters, but at this point the absence of continuity is getting to be so jarring I’m finding it hard to care what happens next if all the foreshadowing of previous episodes is just going to turn out to be pointless meandering that the writers never intend to follow through on. And as to the commenter who asked why those upset about the episode bother watching…obviously I watch because I care about the characters that have been developed over the years, and it pains me to see them treated this way and for no real headway to be made in telling their stories. But certainly, if it continues to be this painful I will eventually stop to save myself from it.

      Posted by shantih | November 27, 2011, 10:17 am
      • You know all this as guaranteed fact? Most shows where the creators are given a two-season commitment use the opportunity to test their characters, and that’s been one of the aspects of this series that I’ve enjoyed.

        Posted by PS | November 27, 2011, 12:33 pm
        • No, but this episode (and spoilers for future ones) doesn’t give me much hope about it turning out elsewise. I will be overjoyed if it does turn out that that’s not the case but I feel pretty let down now. It’s not even that I mind the amnesia about series one or two or three Gwen and Lancelot (though that also hurts), it’s that I feel like this episode was also a complete disservice to what they seemed to be setting up between them in the first two episodes of this series. Why for example show her all alone crying over his funeral pyre at the end of episode two or the conversation between Merlin and Lancelot in which he implies he still has feelings for her but thinks she is better off with Arthur? Why even bring Lancelot back at all, why not make him some other random knight? I’m all for testing characters, but in the case of Gwen they don’t seem to learn anything from that testing and just want to go ahead with whatever way they want the plot to go regardless of whether it makes sense for her character or not, but that’s a whole other discussion. And since this episode largely wasn’t about who Gwen or Lancelot were as characters due to the zombie/enchantment crutch they were relying on (for no other reason than to give them an easy way to revert to the status quo later I guess) it’s also pretty much a moot point.

          Posted by shantih | November 27, 2011, 11:20 pm
  6. Sorry their was no way to edit my earlier message…one other point: Did it not occur to you when Guinevere was portrayed as a servant that she would not be forced into a loveless marriage for political purposes thereby leaving her free to choose one or the other for love?

    Posted by Shirl nettles | November 25, 2011, 3:27 pm
    • Given that they included Lancelot at all, they could at least have told his story. And they did include Lancelot and they hinted at the triangle through series 2 then lost their nerve in the face of the very aggressive Arthur/Gwen battalion I assume. If they wanted to leave out the triangle, why did they tell it at all, especially in such an infantilised way? Guinevere and Lancelot is one of the iconic romances of Western culture but its gutted to please a section of the audience who seem to relish Disney romance? It proved itself to be a kids show this weekend, not a family one. And as for your last line, I am actually permitted an opinion, even if it doesnt square with yours?

      Posted by Marcus | November 28, 2011, 4:32 pm
      • Why would you think the producers will change the story they’re telling “in the face of the very aggresive Arthur/Gwen battalion”? This is the thousands of people marching on Television Centre…? While the occasional nod may be given to fan opinion, this show is made by television professionals who know that catering to one particular small part of the audience – albeit a very vocal one – can be the way that leads to disaster (look at Farscape for a particular case in point).

        But point to everyone with regard to Marcus’ last line – everyone does have a right to their opinion, so please keep this from degenerating into abuse please!

        Paul Simpson, Editor

        Posted by PS | November 28, 2011, 5:24 pm
        • I actually cant imagine why else the producers would have made this choice Paul. Why would anyone actively choose to close off one of the best and most powerful storylines they have (one they’ve carefully set up through several seasons) without using it, unless they’re pandering to someone? And it hardly takes marching on TVC does it – the internet and cons are scary enough. We all know shows that pander to fans (as you say, Farscape). In the end though all of that is unimportant – why they did it I mean, since its done now. Its how they did it that seals the deal for me.

          Even leaving aside the violence they did to the most iconic part of the legend, if they were determined to kill off Lancelot early to remove all threat to Arthur/Gwen, why did they also remove any human complexity from the episode? They had the chance to give Gwen a third dimension, let her show some torment in making a choice, let her actually make a mistake for once even through guilt or the euphoria of having someone she loves back from the dead – but instead they cop out with a magic bracelet. Yes, another one. Thats fine if this is a kids show about magic adventures with cartoon characters. If it has pretensions to be a family show featuring recognisable human dilemmas in a fantasy/magic universe – well the episode just sold that pass.

          There are just 2 characters who seem to be written with three dimensions – characters who are flawed and make human mistakes (and sometimes pay the price) and those characters are Arthur and Merlin. The other main characters have become ciphers. Remember Uther (brutal and cold and yet loving and human) and S1 and 2 Morgana (good and kind but angry at tyranny and frightened by her own magic, growing to hate Uther but love him too) Gwen (kind and brave but shy and bumbling and unnoticed)? Complex. Human.

          Look at what we have now. The perfect woman (always good & wise & brave/never makes mistakes and wears a wonderbra). The evil woman (always ruthless, selfish and uncaring, clad in medieval Versace though living in a witches hovel). The bad uncle (selfish, ruthless and uncaring with no convincing motivation other than that). The good mentor (eternally wise). Perhaps the reason Arthur and Merlin work so superbly on screen together isn’t just that the actors gel so brilliantly & have such chemistry, perhaps its because they’re the only recognisable human beings left in the show. They’re what make it worth watching for me now – that spark of humanity in an extreme setting. Characters I can actually believe in and care about. But sadly I find I’m losing confidence in the show fast and thats a shame (for me :p) because I do/did love it and I really was getting excited about season 4 after the disappointment of S3. Thanks anyway Paul.:)

          Posted by Marcus | November 29, 2011, 9:15 am
          • One thought that crosses my mind- and this is being said looking from outside, NOT with any inside knowledge – is that Santiago’s commitments to US shows meant a reworking of plotlines… Can you imagine the outcry if he were recast?

            As far as Morgana goes, I think what’s here is justifiable based on what she learns of her own background during the first three seasons. It’s got to screw with your mind, learning that sort of stuff!

            Posted by PS | November 29, 2011, 1:14 pm
            • Hey Paul. I honestly think doing away with Lancelot is alot more outrageous for the show than doing away with Santiago! (And I say that as a fan of his). To be honest though they could have so easily taken Lancelot offscreen alot less drastically, and definitely less permanently. Allowing space for a possible return at least. For the record I’m not even suggesting they should have played out the A/G/L triangle honestly onscreen in the TV series btw(the movie might have given more leeway if it happens)…just hinted now and again at what was to come. Ah well…

              As for Morgana… do you think so? I found her a fascinating character in S1 and especially 2 because she was so multi dimensional. She had a good heart…an instinct to do ‘the right thing’ and rank and riches didnt seem that important to her. But she had magic and Uther was a tyrant (who loved her but might just kill her she thought). Her attempts to get revenge for Gwen’s dad and other magic users were turned aside by a Uthers regret- thats how hardass she wasnt.:p Even when Merlin had to try to murder her because of her plotting with Morgause, she was still recognisably Morgana. She was sliding to the dark side but she was still sympathetic and human.

              Speaking for myself I’m not sure discovering Uther was actually her dad was enough for me to believe she transforms into a super villain who can slaughter innocents without a twinge of conscience or regret, wants the throne for herself above all else & is thrilled to hear the citizens of Camelot are dying because of her actions? Or why she is so determined to finish off Arthur when he meant so much to her and never harmed her? Uther yes. Merlin yes. But Arthur? And Gwen? There should be something left – some softness and conscience and essence of the character to connect with, but there isn’t. She been made into a kind of a constantly foiled comedy villain who lacks only a pantomime moustache. S3 ruined her IMO, as it damaged alot of characters and and relationships in the show. I had rather hoped S4 was going to restore them.

              The only glimpse of humanity she’s showed really since the dawn of S3 was a second of pity for Lancelot last week (one of the very rare moments of writing subtlety in that ep – as opposed to acting subtlety which Bradley delivered in spades) which turned out to be just a second after all. 🙂

              Posted by Marcus | November 29, 2011, 2:15 pm
              • Oh, finally. Here is the problem. There IS a feeling that I am getting from the series, that the characters in the Merlin series are not always true to themselves. That both the characters, and the stories themselves are not quite hitting the mark. That isn’t to say I don’t enjoy and look forward to seeing the Aurther and Merlin relationship develope. But there is a definate problem with the writing. It’s a little like being jerked first in one direction, then in another. It feels almost as if there is many different writers pulling the stories and characters in what ever direction they wish, without regard to the story over all. There doesn’t seem to be an over all strong plot. I am very impressed with the character of Aurther, and especially Merlin. The acting that is involved in those two character’s and their relationships is quite impressive. But I wish they were given better stories. There ARE some wonderful moments. And some truely wonderful acting. I hope the series doesn’t lose sight of a good strong direction in the over all plot.

                Posted by Linda | December 27, 2011, 11:03 am
    • And its not possible to love Arthur as well as Lancelot, choose Arthur at the time and then find the marriage not what she expected and find the powerful draw to Lancelot overwhelming? Thats human complexity – its the flawed human condition. Its one reason why that aspect of the legend has lasted so long and is so iconic – because the good guys are allowed flaws just like we are.

      The Gwen the show portrays doesn’t have flaws. Not a single one. (Much like Lancelot in fact). Merlin has flaws as does Arthur. Flaws make good characters interesting.

      Posted by Marcus | November 28, 2011, 4:37 pm
  7. Wow. Well you are certainly firm in your convictions however, I’ve known since S1e1 that Arthur/Gwen were going to be end game in this series. Really from the moment she met Merlin in the stocks with the intention on encouraging him but ended up fawning over Arthur.

    The writing has been on the wall for awhile so I really don’t get your bitterness over the fact that the creators who have changed so much in this show, are not telling the story that you want to see. Like it or not this is NOT the first depiction of Lance and Gwen sans the affair and even in this “Disney” retelling Gwen acknowledges she loved Lance…once. As to flaws, just because Gwen’s flaws are more subtle than most doesn’t mean they are absent. She did use Lances love for her in asking him to lay down his life for Arthur’s. I’d say that was when she made that choice between them that you speak of.

    Actually if you really look at the plot line of this telling…it would be a huge stretch to imagine this Gwen (who is vested in a just and equal Camelot and it’s ruler), to the point that she has risked her life and forsaken her own happiness for them, to betray him or the dream she’s held in her heart since her fathers death. Just saying…

    Posted by Shirl Nett | December 21, 2011, 6:27 pm
    • I have an opinion yes, as apparently do you and my ‘bitterness’ as you call it rather tellingly, is disappointment- not bitterness. I reserve bitterness for things that really matter. I am very *disappointed* that the writers took this childish approach to the legend – to provide a kind of Disney romance when the legend itself is a complex tale go human glory and fallibility. This isn’t the first depiction of Lancelot and Guinevere sans romance? You mean the Clive Owen film in which Arthur is a general in Post Roman Britain? Was there another telling of the Arthurian medieval legends which this show is claiming to be meeting in the essentials, that ran away from the core as this one has? And making Merlin young or Gwen a peasant isn’t changing the heart of the legend as this just has.

      I would very much argue that Gwen is NOT portrayed as flawed in any way – and the ‘flaw’ you suggest – the only one you could come up with? – was simply used to show her huge love for Arthur. Hardly intended to be a flaw. They couldn’t even allow her the complex characterisation of being tempted – they had to enchant her. Its infantilised the story and it fascinates me that the makers boast of how ‘dark’ the show has become and are happy to she the ghost of a murdered child and imply beheadings, burnings and patricide, but the suggestion that love may not be Happily Ever After in a fairytale land is too much for them and apparently a substantial part of the audience.

      It would NOT imo be a huge stretch to imagine a character could have complex feelings beyond Good! and Evil! – but Gwen is not a complex character, I will give you that. She could be though with some better writing. In my view 4.09 proved Merlin to be a show for children, not a family show which can allow more complex themes. Its a shame because the potential was huge.

      Posted by Marcus | December 21, 2011, 10:52 pm
  8. This retelling is unique in the fact that it is not about the love of Lancelot and Guinevere but of Arthur and Guinevere and I personally prefer it. I like millions who watch the show have seen love triangles upon love triangles blah blah until quite frankly, it is refreshing to see a couple who are devoted to one another. Yes, I know nobody wants to see that these days because we all have to have a bit of greed lust or whatever to be a credible character, geez. My 11 year old cried buckets of tears when Arthur broke up with Guinevere because of a kiss. This Gwen is not portrayed that way, her character is loyal and it would be out of character to willing cheat. The average audience (not fandon because most have their own head canon anyway) would not buy it. This was the only plausable way it could be written, although I wished they had skipped it entirely.
    I love the fact that Merlin is young and not old and I haven’t heard much complaining about that one. The success of this show speaks volumes in which they have chosen Guinevere to love Arthur the man. Afterall she is a servant and she does not need to marry for political reason and we knew this from series 1.

    Posted by Michael | December 21, 2011, 7:39 pm
  9. That a bit like saying we’ve seen lots of tragic love stories so this telling of Romeo and Juliet should have a happy ending. The legends this show is following (the medieval ones) had a triangle at their core and it was vital to the outcome of those legends. If you don’t want the triangle arguably you tell a different story or you avoid addressing it- you don’t just totally rewrite one of the greatest love stories in early western literature because its not fluffy enough. Or maybe you do if you produce this show. Perhaps if they wanted to that they shouldn’t have called the character Guinevere- they could call her Carol. Or Sally. The fact this isn’t a political marriage isn’t necessarily relevant either- its possible to marry someone because you love them and for things to go wrong or discover you love someone else more. It doesn’t make anyone ‘bad’, just human.

    Merlin being young doesn’t materially change anything in the legend so far. Nor actually did Uther’s survival. Im all for creative twiddling by the way – Gwen being a peasant for example, but not wholesale rewriting to sanitise it.

    BTW – I’m not suggesting by they should have shown Gwen cheating and thus distressing the children who buy into the A/G romance – simply that if they couldn’t be honest about the story they shouldn’t have touched it. And they certainly shouldn’t have killed of Lancelot just to make sure.

    Posted by Marcus | December 21, 2011, 11:03 pm
  10. I am hoping Lancelot will be reintroduced in future episodes, somehow he will comeback from the dead….It is a show of magic afterall.

    Posted by magic | February 13, 2012, 9:18 pm
  11. I was dissapointed with this episode, and some of the previous episodes before it; The season is not leading up to the important points of the story, like Arthur learning Merlin has magic, or permitting magic to be used in Camelot. The episodes in this season have been so random, like the one about some girl turning into a serpent monster and preying on a village (far away from Camelot) and the knights and Merlin trying to fight it off; it didn’t prolong the story of how Merlin and Arthur allow magic into the kingdom and everything is more peaceful for it. If anything the episodes are constantly reinforcing why magic should not be allowed in the kingdom. Arthur hasn’t seen many instances of good magic so no wonder Merlin might not be revealing his powers to Arthur anytime soon. As for this episode, it was a complete cop out. I hated the zombie lancelot who couldn’t remember anything about his former life. It was stupid to bring this storyline up on a love triangle that has since been done away with: Guinevere had feelings for him, but decided for Arthur when Arthur began to show interest and commitment in her, then Lancelot dies. End of story. The episode’s contrivance (zombie Lancelot, enchanted Gwen) made the Guinevere and Lancelot aspect of the love triangle bloodless (and passionless), that is if anyone was rooting for it. The “affair” was intiated solely on the part of an enchanted Guinevere. Lancelot felt nothing, only doing what Morgana asked him to do. If viewers wanted the arthurian love triangle, why would they want it like this? I personally liked how it was hinted at, but not executed. Its true, the real arthurian love triangle didn’t exist until later versions, and it wasn’t as beautiful and epic as people believe. When Guinevere slept with Lancelot, she felt awful, realizing she didn’t care enough for the man like she thought she did, because she only passioned and lusted for him (not loved), passion that she didn’t feel with Arthur. After the affair she felt so guilty that she joined a nunnery. In the arthurian legend also, Lancelot was known for sleeping around; he slept with the Lady of Shallot, if anyone remembers that part of the legend. So I don’t know why they would choose to go this route. Another thing that bothered me about this episode is that when Merlin is not in his right mind or is acting out of the ordinary, he is vindicated because Gauis amd Gwen just know that he MUST be under an enchantment. The same thing happend with other characters before, but when Guinvere was acting out of the ordinanry, no one gives her the same consideration? They backed themselves in a corner, like one reviewer said. It’s going to be hard for Arthur to trust Guinevere again since he said he doesn’t see himself doing that. They might do another plot contrivance to get them back together.

    Posted by Angel | March 3, 2012, 10:36 pm

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